Tag Archives | Skiff

News Corp. Buys Skiff

This is intriguing: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has bought Skiff, a spinoff from the Hearst Corporation that’s behind a still-unreleased platform for digital magazines and newspapers. I saw Skiff’s e-reader at CES in January and thought it was a pretty slick Kindle rival. Even then, I found Skiff as a platform more interesting than Skiff as a device. And that was before we entered the Technicolor world of the iPad, which makes even the nicest monochrome E-Ink devices look profoundly retro–especially for magazines, which cry out for color.

There hasn’t been much in the way of Skiff news since CES, except for the announcement of a partnership to put its reader software on Samsung phones–for instance, the release date and price of the Skiff gadget remain unknown. I still think that open standards like HTML5 will eventually eliminate the need for proprietary technologies designed to make digital reading materials look pretty and approachable. In the short term, though, Skiff has an opportunity–there’s still a need for what it’s doing. Here’s hoping that it’s hard at work on software for the iPad, Android tablets, and Windows–and that it’s the whole ecosystem rather than the E-Ink reader that got News Corp. excited.



E-Reader Companies Ready Their iPad Apps

Amazon is providing a sneak peek of its Kindle reader for the iPad. The page is titled “Kindle Apps for Tablet Computers Including the iPad,” which sounds like confirmation that other new versions for (mostly) still-to-come devices are also in the works–I’m guessing ones for Windows-based Slate PCs and for Android. And judging from the images on Amazon’s preview page, it looks like the apps may be slicker than the sparse and disappointing Kindle apps that the company has released to date.

Kindle will have company on the iPad: The New York Times is reporting that Barnes & Noble is also working on a reader. Engadget says that the Hearst-backed Skiff platform will “almost certainly” show up as well (an assertion for which its source is…me). And then there’s Apple’s own iBooks.

After the jump, a couple of screenshots of the Kindle app. No word on how quickly it’ll show up after the iPad does on April 3rd, but presumably it’s in Amazon’s interest to give Apple’s bookstore as little of a head start as possible.

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More E-Reader Impressions: Skiff

Unlike Plastic Logic, new e-reader arrival Skiff isn’t showing off its stuff on the show floor. But it’s demonstrating its reader–which it’s only saying will arrive sometime in 2010, at an unspecified price–in a private room. I got a sneak peek, and came away intrigued.

Physically, the Skiff reader looks a lot like Plastic Logic’s Que–it has a magazine-sized screen, a touch interface, and a thin case. Both readers use their extra real estate and resolution to render pages with more style and fidelity than is afforded by the smaller screens on the Kindle and Nook. But while Plastic Logic is pitching the Que as a business tool, Skiff is focusing on making magazines and newspapers easy to get and read. The demo I got involved digital versions of the Wall Street Journal and Esquire that maintained a newspaper and magazine-like feel, respectively, along with the typography, art, and layouts you associate with those two publications. They’re not exact replicas of the print incarnations, though–they’re scaled to the available screen space on the Skiff. And the ads provide some interactivity, such as a car one that lets you find a local dealer.

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Skiff, an Interesting New E-Reader. But Do We Need Another One?

Among the gazillion products making their debut this week at the Consumer Electronics Show: Skiff, the first reader from a new spinoff of publishing behemoth Hearst. The Skiff has the largest (11.5″) and highest-resolution (1200 by 1600) screen of any e-reader to date; it uses a new “metal foil” technology from LG instead of glass, making the gizmo sturdy and thin; and it emphasizes magazines and newspapers more than most e-readers, as you might expect of a reader that emerged from Hearst. (Kindle and Nook both offer magazines and books, but in a drab, text-oriented format that looks more like a 1986 CompuServe screen than a real periodical or a Web page.)

Whatever Skiff is, it’s definitely not an unimaginative Kindle wannabe, and I’m looking forward to seeing it at the show in a few days. But I’m not unreservedly excited about the profusion of new e-reading devices that are arriving. We have a sufficient supply of hardware–at least hardware that utilizes monochrome e-ink displays. And e-reading is going to be a hundred times more exciting once the industry agrees on some standards that make these devices as compatible with an array of content as Web browsers have been from day one.

Skiff apparently plans to license its platform to other devices too, and that’s smart–but it’s still a proprietary format that won’t work with every major e-reader. To mention CompuServe yet again, we’re still stuck in the equivalent of the era when CompuServe, AOL, GEnie, and others duked it out by building their own proprietary technologies and licensing exclusive content. You think it’s a coincidence that the online world only really took off when the Web knocked down those walls?

Here’s the e-reader development I most want to see: An e- format that’s largely based on existing HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other Web technologies, with a dash of something along the lines of Google Gears to make it possible to peruse publications when you’re not online, plus some sort of mechanism for enabling paid content. Something, in other words, not wildly different from the Web as we know it, except in a form that provides more of the visual elegance and browsability of print. Seems simple enough to me…


Skiff: Still Another Approach to E-Reading

The long-rumored entry of publishing behemoth Hearst into the e-reader game is now official. And it’s not an e-reader, it’s an e-reader platform–offered by a new standalone company being launched by Hearst. Skiff says it’ll distribute magazines, newspapers, and books in attractively-formatted versions to a variety of e-readers, smartphones, and other devices. It won’t sell a device, but it’s partnering with chip company Marvell and wireless provider Sprint to help other companies make Skiff-enabled gadgets for sale starting next year.

The most interesting part of this news is not that there will be even more readers to choose from in 2010, but that Skiff is paying attention to the presentation of periodicals. Today’s readers, such as the Kindle, work okay for publications that are mostly hundreds of pages of plain text. But the magazines and newspapers I’ve seen in reader form have been really disappointing, since they’ve lost all the artful melding of type, imagery (preferably color imagery), and other elements that continue to make dead trees one of the best technologies ever invented for conveying information. Nor do you get the interactivity and community that the Web versions of the same publications provide (for free, yet).

The magazines I’ve subscribed to on the Kindle feel like a mashup of aspects of the Web and print–but it’s the worst aspects. The best ones are all left out. I wrote about this in a recent guest post for Folio, and while the Skiff site mostly offers tantalizing vision rather than specifics, I’m encouraged to see that the company’s tackling the problem, at least. Even though I think time is running out for companies to launch new devices and services dedicated to e-reading, unless they’re compatible with absolutely everything else that’s out there.